A Blue Marlin, Eight Hours, and a Mohawk - Heartbreak in Sportfishing
Sportsmanship is a cornerstone of the billfishing community. We’re all dependent on each other’s integrity. In the most challenging times, those that involve children, money, and reputation, we rely on one another to do what’s right. At the Annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament, we witnessed an incredible demonstration of sportsmanship in a heartbreaking situation.
What started as a rumor trickling along the docks, soon was confirmed by several boats and one ambiguous message sent to Jodi Truluck, wife of Brad Truluck and mother of Mackenzi Truluck, both fishing aboard the Tina’s Trippin’. Previously, Brad and Jodi had invested in a tracking and signaling device that sends pre-programmed text messages to loved ones in the case of an emergency. Jodi had received a message indicating that the Tina’s Trippin’ was ok and fishing late. When the rest of the fleet picked up their lines and turned West for Georgetown Landing Marina, the Tina’s Trippin’ continued to battle a fish.
The crew that day was lighter than usual aboard the Tina’s Trippin’. The owner, Tripp Rice, and his family weren’t able to fish the tournament. Instead, Captain Brett Wood, Jake Tyner, Brad Truluck, and Mackenzi Truluck were sent to fish the three day event. Due to some mechanical issues preventing the Short People from fishing, EJ Nettles joined the Tina’s Trippin’ too. The team of five set out to find a blue marlin. Some hours later, they found her.
With the scorching sun directly overhead and a few other boats nearby, the right short came down hard. A thick, angry, broad-shouldered blue marlin appeared from the deep, greyhounding across the horizon. Mackenzi, a 17-year-old angler, athlete, and determined young woman, jumped into the chair and got to work. “From the beginning of the fight, I knew she was a big girl and I didn’t want to make the wrong move and lose her,” Mackenzi said. “As the fight kept on going, I started to think about what the boat’s family was thinking back home.”
Back at the dock, news spread quickly about the status of the Tina’s Trippin’. All of us remained at the edge of our seats with burning questions. Who was fighting the fish? Would it be coming back to the scales? How much longer could the angler continue to fight?
At this point, Mackenzi had already been on the rod for many hours. Captain Brett Wood said, “All we were worried about the entire time was keeping that line tight, and then as the fish descended straight down I was praying she wasn’t tail wrapped and maybe just sounding to the bottom. I also couldn’t imagine myself in that chair fighting that fish the way she was for so long. A lot of emotions flying around in that battle!”
The sun began its descent while Mackenzi remained hooked up to the fish. Sunburnt, sore, and exhausted, she pushed on. “I didn’t want to let down everyone else on the boat,” Mackenzi explained when asked about what kept her from throwing in the towel. “The whole time they were motivating me, so I didn’t want to be selfish and let them down.”
Mackenzi’s father, Brad Truluck, stood by during the fight, feeling helpless, but also proud. “It was absolutely horrible to sit back and not be able to help in a situation like that. But on the other hand it was more rewarding to sit back and realize that she had everything under control. Just like life, you raise your kids the best you can and then you have to sit back and let them fight through it. Mackenzi is not a quitter. I guess she was listening when her granddad Les O’Hara told her, ‘NEVER GIVE UP!’”
As the sun settled into the petal pink of the horizon, Brett, Jake, Brad, and EJ stood by while Mackenzi continued to push through. “We had to try a few different ways to get her up. Just in case she was still alive and not tail wrapped, we tried running around her going the other direction with the current, in hopes that she would swim up, which we’ve done in the past. That ended up taking a lot of line off with very little gain back,” Brett said. “Finally we ended up just letting her float with the current and moving the boat forward against the current to plane her up. Then we’d back down and get as many cranks as Mackenzi could until she either needed a break or the line was too close to the transom. Then repeat.”
Mackenzi wrestled with that blue marlin for a total of eight hours. Eight hours! That’s a full work day for the standard office job – that’s a granola bar, a staff meeting, a ham sandwich, a request from the boss, and a handful of trips to and from the water cooler. Blisters had formed, burst, and formed again on Mackenzi’s palms by the time a hand touched the leader. Recalling that moment, Mackenzi said, “I was so excited that we had finally got her to the boat. Even though I felt like my arms were about to fall off, that was probably the best time I ever had fishing.”
When the good-sized blue marlin surfaced, the crew saw that she was tail wrapped. They quickly measured her. With disappointment, they followed the length of the tape to a number that seemed unfair. The blue marlin was just a few inches short of the Series’ size limit. Although the federal legal minimum size limit for blue marlin is 99 inches, the Governor’s Cup requires that all landed blue marlin measure at least 105 inches. It’s a way to both protect the angler and the fish– decreasing the likelihood of mistakes while encouraging the conservation of blue marlin. Acting quickly, the crew immediately attempted to revive the blue marlin. They released her into the black of the sea and turned for the marina.
It was after midnight when the crew of exhausted fishermen tied up to the dock. They were met by dockhands, family, other participants, and Gov Cup staff. When going through the standard interview, the team explained that the fish was likely dead upon release and had been bitten by a shark, both of which are a violation of IGFA and Series rules. Although none of that could be ascertained from the photographs, the crew volunteered the information and disqualified the fish themselves, effectively taking away the points they would earn for the release.
When asked about the decision to disqualify the fish, Brett said, “We knew that the fish did not swim away healthily. We had the opportunity to say it was a released fish, but I feel like making that decision showed that our team has a lot of character and it’s not just about the points and the money. It’s about who you are as a person/team and that reflects a lot on your program and what you stand for.” Brad also chimed in, “Being able to walk down the dock with your head held high knowing you made the right decision is what sportsmanship is all about. I would rather DQ a fish and give up the points/money than to look in my kids’ eyes and tell them I got something that I did not deserve.” Well Brad, we followed up with Mackenzi. She, after an eight-hour fight, in all her impressive wisdom, said, “We all knew it was the right thing to do. I wouldn’t like having that hang above my head, knowing we released a dead fish.” It would seem that she’s followed her father’s lead.
While chatting with Brett about the Tina’s Trippin’ crew, he said, “The team did an amazing job and I’m very proud of our crew. To top it all off, hats off to Mackenzi for never giving up! I was very proud of her!” Brett continued, “Tripp was very excited for us. I want to thank him as well for not only putting us through with the boat, but for treating me as if I am one of his own children. That man has done a lot for me. Thanks Tripp! Who you with!!!”
Sometimes fish die. Sometimes sharks bite. Things don’t always add up the way we want them to on the water. Conservation is at the heart of what we do at the Governor’s Cup and we learn a lot about these fish from the people who know them best – the captains, mates, and anglers. Thank you, each of you, for giving us a window to their world. Sometimes our participants pull the short straw. But in those difficult moments, we’re blessed to be surrounded by folks like those aboard the Tina’s Trippin’. Even after a hard-fought battle and a disappointing result, the crew remained positive. They fished the next day, and upon their return, Brett was seen sporting a questionable haircut. Brett explained, “I told everyone on the boat when we put lines in Friday morning that if we caught a blue marlin today, Mackenzi was going to give me a Mohawk, and of course it worked. So Saturday morning I had to keep my word and handed her the clippers. Instant regret, but like I said, I like it a little now. Maybe at the CBC it’ll end up being a blue Mohawk if we get another one.”
Well, here’s to determination, sportsmanship, good spirits, and sticking to your word!
Congratulations, Mackenzi!! Wear this trial with pride. And, in the very words you left us with, go out there and kick the boys’ butts!
Good luck to the Tina’s Trippin’ and the rest of the Gov Cup fleet this week in the Carolina Billfish Classic! Be safe and catch ‘em up!
The Teaser is a series dedicated to showcasing the stories of the Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series and its lively community. The Gov Cup was created several decades ago to encourage the conservation of ocean resources through the tagging and release of billfish. Learn more here.